- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) - The Southwest Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Region is using technology and a new community-based program to serve people experiencing a mental health crisis.

The region’s Mental Health Crisis Response Team uses videoconferencing technology to connect with people in crisis, The Daily Nonpareil (https://bit.ly/2kOI76y ) reported.

“It works out well for crisis assessment,” said Suzanne Watson, CEO of the region.

The team, made up of therapists and social workers, responds to calls from law enforcement officers when they see signs that someone involved in an incident is in a mental health crisis. Therapists on call try to be on scene within 30 minutes and conduct an assessment. Then, the therapist makes a recommendation to the law enforcement officer on what level of care the person needs. The goal is to avoid unnecessary incarcerations and hospitalizations.

The team is called out eight to 12 times a month, said Mandy Standley, lead therapist, who is frequently on call. However, it can take nearly an hour to get from Council Bluffs to the eastern side of Pottawattamie County, so the on-call therapist connects with the subject at the scene through the computer and webcam in the officer’s vehicle.

“It’s a secure, encrypted application we use through Secure Telehealth,” she said.

Law enforcement officials in Pottawattamie County have been using the system since last summer, Standley said. Since then, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Harlan Police Department, Shenandoah Police Department, Glenwood Police Department and Mills County Sheriff’s Office have implemented the system, Standley said. Other law enforcement agencies in the nine-county region are being added as officers become trained in the procedure.

“We’re the first region in the state to try this,” Watson said.

The other regions that have crisis response teams are in urban areas and do not have to bridge as great a distance, she said.

So far, the system is working well and helping to reduce unnecessary hospitalizations, Watson said, adding that about 93 percent of them didn’t need to be hospitalized.

The team has used it for four calls since December, Standley said.

“We had three adults and one juvenile through telehealth,” she said. “It’s a bit different, because you have to build that connection, since you’re not really there. You have to build that rapport in an unusual setting. The people we did see through telehealth, none of them had to go to the hospital. We were able to de-escalate the situation and make a safety plan.”

The system saves the therapist some travel time and allows him or she to connect with the patient sooner, said Pottawattamie County Deputy Marc Freeman. That, in turn, frees the officer to respond to another call sooner.

The subject does not have to get in the squad car to participate in the video conference, Freeman said.

“We can take our computer out of the car and set this on a table or something in their home, if that makes them feel more comfortable,” he said.

The team follows up within 24 hours and again 30 days after the incident to see how the patient is doing and make sure the person is getting the care they need, Standley said.

The system is also used to conduct pre-committal assessments when someone is presenting a relative for involuntary committal to a mental health institute or other health care facility, she said. In most cases, committal can be avoided and the person referred to outpatient treatment.

In another effort to serve people in a mental health crisis, Turning Pointe, a Crisis Stabilization Residential Service for adults, opened in January 2016 in Clarinda. The facility was made possible by a grant from the region and is operated by Waubonsie Mental Health Center.

Individuals are prescreened at a local hospital or mental health agency before entering Turning Pointe. The facility provides a home-like setting where adults can stay and receive short-term treatment, including daily support from direct care staff and licensed mental health practitioners. Besides receiving treatment, patients are taught crisis management skills and basic living skills during their stay.

Turning Pointe, too, aims to prevent unnecessary hospitalizations. Most clients are able to be referred to outpatient treatment on their release.


Information from: The Daily Nonpareil, https://www.nonpareilonline.com

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